"We discovered that the research projects cannot be isolated from the ever-changing business environment. Therefore an agile approach was integrated into project management. The aim was the quick utilisation of the research results in business operations, as well as an iterative manner of disseminating the results to the entire consortium", stated Dr. Tua Huomo.
Nowadays, a similar model is utilised also in other DIGILE programmes, as well as in the new N4S Programme, which was launched in the beginning of 2014. Dr. Tua Huomo believes that the agility of large projects can and should be increased. If the vision and the goals are clear, the sprint model also works well in large joint projects between many organisations.
Since changes in the ICT field are rapid, planning a vast research programme is challenging. The research programme must prepare its own guidelines and profit targets. It is particularly important to invest in the initial preparations of the programme.
"You must consider carefully for what purpose the research programme is needed. Often joint projects only seem to engage in co-operation and the common goals are mere rhetoric."
Dr. Tua Huomo believes that the research operations in the field of ICT should always include a clear link to business operations and their exploitability. It is also essential to achieve good co-operation between the industry and research organisations.
"In research, scientific advancement is of the essence, but it is also important that the research results provide real impact on business operations."
Dr. Tua Huomo emphasises that the results of a programme such as N4S are evaluated based on its impact on business operations. Therefore it is important to understand what happens in the surrounding world, and how companies could be at the forefront as exploiters of new opportunities. "In the rapidly changing world, we should not prepare 4-year project plans with result lists. It would be better to focus on long-term vision and goals, and plan concrete action and results in the short term. For example, in large projects, presenting and critical evaluation of results every three months saves time and resources."
In joint projects, it is essential that all results are disseminated as transparently as possible. This can be easily done with the sprint model and the right tools and methods.
In a research project, the sprint model functions so that the organisations involved develop products, services or even operations in co-operation, within a certain framework and in a manner agreed upon together. The goal is that the whole and its sub-areas gradually change to become more correct and complete during several rounds of implementation. These rounds are referred to as sprints. A sprint ends with a demo and result evaluation event, where, for example, the next software version can be introduced. Within different sub-areas, smaller sprints can be made according to need. In software development, the length of a sprint may vary from a few days to a few weeks.
The sprint model turned out to work particularly well in the Cloud Software project. It was not used only in software planning, but also in the management of the entire project.
"The sprint model focuses on creating results regularly. As a result, the manner of proceeding has supported the profit-orientation during the entire project, and there was no final rush typical of joint projects to finalise the promised results before the end of the project."
During the Cloud Software Programme, all in all more than one hundred demos were presented and the events were held every quarter of a year. These events called bazaars were open for all organisations participating in the project. The idea was to introduce the results with a few minutes' pitch. In this manner, the information travelled efficiently and, at the same time, premises for utilising the results and generating new co-operation were created.
"I consider the biggest advantage of the sprint model to be that it supports co-operation, dissemination of results and, above all, regular networking between the people working for the project, so that they get to know each other on an organisation and personal level. With these sprint model working methods, the information within the project has travelled better, the utilisability of the results has been more efficient and time has been saved for promoting important issues."
According to Dr. Tua Huomo, a similar model has not yet been used elsewhere in jointly funded projects. "However, this is not merely a matter of regular meetings but a 'change of mindset' - focusing on creating results and learning. The focus is on creating results and learning. The project plans and profit targets can be changed if the surrounding world changes. The focus is on value creation and not following the reports in the project plan."
There are many Finnish information technology innovations out in the world that have been financially exploited outside the borders of Finland. One of the aims of the N4S Programme is that the productification of innovations happens in Finland, launched by Finnish companies. In Dr. Tua Huomo's view, one important area is data-intensive Cloud services and their utilisation.
"There are many companies in the N4S consortium that have competence in data utilisation. On the other hand, this area also has potential for significant new business operations."
Information security also provides many different opportunities. The need for secure data-intensive Cloud services will increase in the coming years. The Cloud Software Programme had its own information security section, led by Ericsson Finland and the University of Oulu. During the Cloud Software Programme, Ericsson and F-Secure developed their own Cloud services. Ericsson's virtual Cloud service platform has been optimised for the needs of telecommunication companies' communication services. F-Secure's Cloud service is independent of the device environment and it has also incorporated e.g. virus protection.
At the moment, Dr. Tua Huomo has an excellent view over the development of European secure Cloud services, because she is also the action line leader of the Future Cloud area at the ICT laboratory of the European Institution of Innovation and Technology (EIT ICT Labs). The partner network is vast and it covers a significant part of ICT research and companies in Europe.
"The aim of the Future Cloud area is to develop reliable European cloud services and solutions that are successful globally."
More information about the Need for Speed (N4S) Programme is available at http://www.n4s.fi/